The Porsche 911 story actually started with the 901 in 1963. It was penned by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who was famed for designing the Volkswagen Beetle. 

Porsche’s replacement for the 356 was originally set to be sold as the 901, its internal design number. But Peugeot claimed the rights to three-digit car names with zero in the middle, so Porsche changed the name and the 911 moniker was born. 

The 911 originally had a 2.0-litre air-cooled flat six engine, mounted, of course, in the rear of the car. Butzi’s 901 design, in essence, lasted until 1993. 

Over the years Porsche carried out myriad styling tweaks and changes, as well as numerous engine capacity upgrades, ultimately expanding to 3.2 litres in the 1983 Carrera 3.2 and again to 3.6 litres in the 964. 

The Targa was introduced in 1967, through Porsche’s misinformation that convertibles were to be made illegal in the US. The name was chosen after Porsche’s multiple triumphs in the Targa Florio race. It wasn’t until the 1983 model that a fully fledged convertible was available, after being revealed as a concept in 1981. 

In 1988 the 911 Classic was finally replaced by the 964, the most radically altered 911 since its introduction. With a more modern design, the 964 followed the same 911 recipe until its replacement in 1993 by the 993. 

Due to it being the last air-cooled incarnation, 993 is hailed by hardcore Porsche purists as “the last true 911”. Nonetheless, the 996 replaced it in 1998, again with the boast of being the most thoroughly overhauled 911 model since 911s began. It also went on to become the best-selling 911; over 170,000 were sold. 

The 911 then went back to its trademark ‘bug-eye’ headlights when the ‘teardrop’ headlighted 996 was replaced in 2004 by the 997. It had remarkable longevity, lasting over eight years albeit slightly broken up by a 2009 facelift. The 997 also spawned the special edition Sport Classic, celebrating Porsche’s long heritage and featuring a ‘duck-tail’ spoiler and Fuchs alloys. 

Porsche's 991 generation, unveiled in 2011, was one of the most extensive redevelopments in the 911’s history. It is built on a new platform, only the third in the 911’s 50-year life

The first 911 Turbo was released in 1975, with a comparatively large 3.0-litre engine, ‘whale tail’ spoiler and trademark wide bodywork. In 1993 the 993-generation 911 Turbo was given another turbocharger and four-wheel drive.

Porsche’s next 911 Turbo will sport three turbochargers when it is introduced later in 2013.

Since its debut at the 1963 Frankfurt motor show, more then 820,000 911s have been built. The firm has treated the race track as a lab test; two-thirds of Porsche’s 30,000 race wins were in a 911.

Its popularity isn’t hard to explain, but it was Ferdinand Porsche who best described its qualities: “The 911 is the only car you could drive on an African safari or at Le Mans, to the theatre or through New York city traffic.”

Want to find out more about the history of Porsche, and the cars it has produced, over the past 50 years? Pick up the 27 February issue of Autocar and watch our video here.

Jimi Beckwith